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Educating Ourselves about the Opioid Epidemic

By IHI Open School | Friday, June 28, 2019
Educating Ourselves About the Opioid Epidemic

Ryerson University is situated in the heart of downtown Toronto, right next door to Toronto Public Health. Being neighbors with this building has shed some light on important social issues such as homelessness, unemployment, alcoholism, and drug use. We often overlook these things because we are preoccupied with our own lives as students, but seeing these issues everyday makes them very difficult to ignore. This is why our Open School Chapter decided to participate in the Recover Hope Campaign. It is important that students understand the intersectionalities of these issues and work towards creating a society that is non-discriminatory. Some examples of intersecting identities include class, race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender. Similarly, the opioid epidemic disproportionately affects those with multiple intersecting identities.

In 2017, 4,034 Canadians died from opioid overdose. This number continues to increase yearly. Unfortunately, Ontario’s provincial government continues to limit the overdose prevention sites by defunding them and questioning their practicality, regardless of professional health care associations’ advisement and evaluations, even though these are life-saving services. It is difficult to tackle the opioid epidemic when our politicians do not prioritize public health. The Ryerson University Open School Chapter has partnered with several student-led groups such as the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy to educate and advocate for marginalized communities. One way we’ve been able to do this is by hosting monthly naloxone trainings.

These trainings provide information and education regarding the overdose crisis in Canada and the practical skills to prevent, recognize, and respond to opioid overdose, including how to administer the medication naloxone, to temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. In addition, the sessions addressed conversations around pain management and treating substance use. The didactic and interactive session was taught by pharmacist Dr. Samim Hasham, BSc Pharm (Hons), MMngt, CDE, PharmD, who emphasizes de-prescribing practices, identifying drug problems and alternative options conversations with psychiatrists. Over the 2018-2019 school year, approximately 850 students and some faculty and staff participated from various faculties including Nursing, Public Health, Social Work and Health Services Management, as well as Public Policy, Journalism, and Engineering. After the training, participants had the opportunity to practice their newly acquired skills using a take-home intranasal inhaler naloxone kit and were given a certificate of completion.

Additionally, we’ve also hosted a panel to complement a documentary screening in November 2018 which consisted of several experts from diverse backgrounds such as clinicians, indigenous counselors, and pharmacists discussing stigma, social transformation, and oppression. One of our goals moving forward is to prioritize the expertise of those with lived experience with the social issues our work addresses. Additionally, we want to ensure that our community uses a harm reduction approach when managing substance use. Our vision is to transform our community by encouraging policy makers to acknowledge the negative health, social, and economic consequences related to drug use. By doing so, we wish to see a community where people with substance use disorders are treated with dignity and humanity rather than as burdens on society. Our Chapter is thrilled to be participating in this campaign and receiving so much support from our community and the Open School. The key message we hope everyone takes away from our work is that substance use is not a moral problem, rather it is a systematic one.

Insharah Sajanlal (President, 2017-2019) and Jocelyn Badali (Vice President of Advocacy and Policy, 2017-2019) are members of the Ryerson University Chapter of the IHI Open School in Toronto, Canada.


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